The U.S. Coast Guard provides a broad definition for the term “boating accident.” In general, a boating accident is said to have occurred when:

  • A boat causes damage to other property; 
  • The boat sustains damage itself; and/or
  • A person on a boat is injured, killed, or disappears while either aboard a boat (e.g., falls overboard) or during a boat outing (e.g., lost at sea).

A boating accident lawsuit is one type of legal action that a party may take if they suffered injuries as a result of being involved in any of the above scenarios. 

What are Some Examples of Boat Accidents?

Some common examples of boat accidents include:

  • Accidents that involve hitting another boat, person, floating object (e.g., a buoy). or stationary object (e.g., a dock); 
  • If the boat flips over (i.e., capsizes), floods, sinks, or is grounded ashore;
  • If the boat explodes or a fire breaks out;
  • Issues with the gas tank like carbon monoxide poisoning;
  • Any type of collision or incident that causes damage to the boat itself; and 
  • Accidents that involve a person falling overboard or suffering injuries while they are being towed (e.g., water skiing or tubing). 

What Do Boating Laws Cover?

It is important to keep in mind that where the boating accident occurs is key when determining which laws will apply. For instance, if the boating accident happened in an area of the ocean that belongs to the United States, then federal U.S. maritime laws will apply to a case. If the boating incident occurred in a lake or river, then a case will most likely fall under state and local laws. 

In general, state boating laws cover a whole host of topics. Some of these topics include:

  • Boating license requirements;
  • Safety regulations (e.g., life jackets, first-aid kits, etc.);
  • Speed limits and other laws that pertain to operating a boat;
  • Noise levels if the boat has an engine;
  • Boating under the influence (“BUI”) laws; and  
  • Various other regulations that try to ensure the safety of boat owners and boat passengers, and minimal damage to property.

What Parties May Held Liable for a Boating Accident? 

There are a number of parties who may be liable for a boating accident. The facts of the case will usually determine precisely which parties can be held responsible. In general, some parties that are typically found liable include:

  • The captain or driver of the other boat;
  • The owner of the boat if they knowingly lent it to someone who was not qualified to operate it;
  • A crew member or boat passenger whose reckless behavior caused the accident in question;
  • A rental company if the boat was temporarily secured for recreational purposes; 
  • The company or person responsible for maintaining the boat (e.g., a cruise ship neglected to prevent a gas leak from happening); and/or
  • The boat manufacturer in cases where there is a product defect.

What Kinds of Injuries Can Boat Accidents Cause? 

As is the case with any type of accident, there are many kinds of injuries that can occur as a result of a boating accident. Some of the most commonly reported boat accident injuries include the following:

  • Drowning;
  • Neck and spinal injuries;
  • Loss of limbs;
  • Lacerations to legs, arms, and other body parts;
  • Muscle and tissue damage;
  • Broken bones; and
  • Whiplash.

Additionally, the kinds of injuries a person may receive will also depend on a number of other factors, such as the speed of the boat, the size of the boat, the weather, how many people were aboard the vessel, and whether the injury happened entirely in the water or if part of it took place on land.

Which Remedies are Available in Boat Accident Lawsuits?

The most common type of damages awarded in boat accident cases is compensatory damages. Compensatory damages are used to reimburse a plaintiff for the cost of their injuries, such as for medical bills, lost wages, and property damage. If proven, a plaintiff may also be able to recover damages for pain and suffering (e.g., emotional distress, reputational damages, etc.).

In cases where a victim died or disappeared, a close family member may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit and collect damages for their loss. These damages can be used to cover things like funeral expenses, loss of benefits, and loss of consortium

Lastly, in rare instances when a defendant’s conduct is found to be outrageously offensive, a court may also award punitive damages in addition to all other damages. 

Are There any Unique Boating Laws in the Northern Virginia Area? 

Since Virginia is a coastal state, it is important to determine whether federal or state law applies before filing a claim. While this is true in any state, parties to a case must pay extra attention in Virginia because it borders the Atlantic Ocean, parts of Chesapeake Bay, the Intracoastal Waterway, and various other waterways and lakes.  

In regard to specific state laws, Virginia boating laws are enforced by its Department of Wildlife Resources. Some unique boating laws in the Northern Virginia area include:

  • All power boats that are 16 feet or greater in length and are operating on rivers or areas of rivers that are 2 miles or wider, must have equipment onboard that emits a visual distress signal.
  • Be prepared to pay a barrier fee to boat at certain points of some rivers located in this area.
  • There must be at least one U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket for each person on a boat and it must comport with all life jacket requirements (e.g., they must be the appropriate size for the wearer, etc.).
  • All motorboats require a muffling device.
  • There are also numerous fishing regulations, such as how big a fish must be in order to keep it and the type of fish that people are allowed to catch. These regulations frequently change. Thus, it is best to visit a Virginia website for a specific fishing location.

Though Northern Virginia is situated a bit farther from Chesapeake Bay than several of its rivers, it is still close enough that it may be useful to keep the following laws in mind: 

  • Boaters are not permitted to operate a vessel within 100 yards of the sand beaches of Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic from the period between May 1st through October 15th. This includes not being allowed to anchor in the area or any other activity that would obstruct this area.
  • This same law and time frame applies to jet skiers as well. Additionally, jet skiers cannot operate their jet skis between sunset and sunrise at any point in the year.

Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer If I’ve Been in a Boating Accident in the Northern Virginia Area?

As previously mentioned, state boating laws vary widely by jurisdiction. Thus, if you were involved in a boating accident in the Northern Virginia area, then it may be in your best interest to hire a local personal injury lawyer for further legal assistance. 

A Northern Virginia lawyer will have sufficient knowledge about the boating laws in your area and will be able to explain how they apply to your specific case. Your lawyer can also help you prepare and file a lawsuit, discuss any remedies or defenses that may be important to bring up in your case, and can represent you in court on the matter.